Vladimir Griegorovich Tretchikoff (South African, 1913-2006) Penny Whistlers
Lot 62*
Vladimir Griegorovich Tretchikoff
(South African, 1913-2006)
Penny Whistlers
Sold for £50,000 (US$ 64,959) inc. premium

Lot Details
Vladimir Griegorovich Tretchikoff (South African, 1913-2006)
Penny Whistlers
signed 'TRETCHIKOFF' (lower right)
oil on canvas
61 x 122cm (24 x 48 1/16in).

Footnotes

  • Provenance
    Acquired directly from the artist by Dr Paul Kaufman, Toronto, 1965.
    By direct descent to the current owner.

    Exhibited
    Cape Town, Garlicks department store, 20 August 1959.
    Toronto, Eaton's, Second touring exhibition to Canada, 1965.


    Penny Whisters is one of Tretchikoff's best known and most historically significant paintings.

    The artist revolutionised the market for art prints in Britain with the production of Chinese Girl in 1956. The exotic subject matter and bold colours of the print appealed to the general public, shaking 'the slumbering art lovers of Britain as they have not been shaken before', in the words of the Art Bulletin. Tretchikoff's popular appeal was cemented when he issued reproductions of his works Zulu Girl, Basuto Girl and Zulu Maiden. These prints so captured the British public's imagination that when the original paintings were exhibited in London in 1961, over 200,000 visitors attended.

    Penny Whistlers was reproduced and printed in Britain in 1965, becoming one of the ten best-selling prints that year. The print's popularity provoked a wave of imitative works. Young artists sought to tap into the zeitgeist; portraits of black men and women became a regular feature in the Art Bulletin and Boots art department, where prints were sold in these years. These artists emulated Tretchikoff's exotic subject matter, but also his bright palette. The trademark bluish tint of the penny whistlers' faces was swiftly adopted.

    The original oil painting, Penny Whistlers, was first exhibited in Cape Town in 1959. It reveals Tretchikoff's development as a socially conscious artist. Up to this point, his depictions of black Africans had been restricted to 'exotic' stereotypes, generalised figures in traditional dress. This painting marks a departure point, in that it locates the sitters in a specific time a space. Tretchikoff would have encountered these young whistlers on the streets of Cape Town. It was during this year that he painted Black and White, his poignant commentary on the apartheid policies that were dividing the nation.

    In Penny Whistlers, Tretchikoff celebrates the cheerful spirit of these black South Africans. Racial discrimination has not dimmed their energy and good humour. It also reflects the rise of 'kwela', a light and jazzy street music with a skiffle-like beat. Residents of black townships performed it on cheap tin flutes and guitars, communicating the rough-and-tumble of the city with their improvisations. At the time that Tretchikoff was painting this work, a song by a local kwela band, 'Tom Hark', topped the pop charts in Britain.

    It is likely that Tretchikoff's whistlers were inspired by the Kwela Kids, a band comprising Isaac Ngoma, Joshua and Robert Sithole of District Six and Gugulethu. Each Saturday, they gathered at the Grand Parade square in Cape Town. Their performances were so popular that the local police had to enforce crowd control to prevent spectators blocking the traffic.

    We are grateful to Boris Gorelik for his assistance in the cataloguing of this lot.

    Bibliography
    H.Timmins, Tretchikoff, (Cape Town, 1969), illustrated.
    B.Gorelik, Incredible Tretchikoff, (London, 2013), pp.184, 214-6.
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